Feature

2000 & 2002 NASA Einstein Fellow Peg Steffen
01.27.09
Peg Steffen

Former NASA Einstein Fellow Peg Steffen is now the lead education coordinator for NOAA's National Ocean Service. Image Credit: Peg Steffen

Describe your teaching experience before becoming an Einstein Fellow.

I taught science in Iowa schools for 25 years. My experience spans grades 8-12 in many subjects, from environmental science to biology and astronomy. I also worked for eight years as an adjunct professor at a local university for pre-service teachers to give them science background toward elementary education certification. In addition, I have worked to provide professional development opportunities to fellow teachers and have given many workshops here in the United States and abroad. In 1999, I completed the process for National Board Certification in Adolescent and Young Adult Science. It was an arduous but worthwhile experience, and it has given me credibility as a successful educator in non-teaching positions since leaving the classroom.


Why did the Einstein Fellow Program appeal to you?

As all of my friends will tell you, I am a science fiction geek. I applied with many other teachers to be the first Teacher in Space, a competition that selected Christa McAuliffe. Space science has a special place in children's hearts, and I worked to bring that to life in the classroom. Once my own children were successfully launched in college, the opportunity to enter a larger education arena, where I could be of service to more students and teachers, appealed to me. The Einstein Fellowship provided a protected way to spread my wings educationally and to experience a new part of the country. I did not know that the fellowship would be the start of a whole new career.


What was your assignment while an Einstein Fellow at NASA?

As an Einstein Fellow in 2000, I was given the freedom to become involved in several projects, including NASA CONNECT, the Centennial of Flight celebration and NASA Educational Workshops. I also selected and led an external evaluation team to provide preliminary data on the effectiveness of the SEE NASA (Student Educational Experience at NASA) educational launch experience for students from Florida elementary/middle schools. The evaluation team included representatives from several state and federal government agencies. The panel gathered evidence about the pilot program and suggested formative changes. (The panel) made recommendations to scale up the effort to more students in Florida, to increase the effectiveness of the experience for students, and to provide connections to the classroom.

As an Einstein Fellow in 2002, I designed and implemented the Iowa-NASA Connection Project. The program used the state's fiber-optic and public broadcast system to show how state-based and national NASA resources can be joined together for professional development and student learning.


What were your major accomplishment(s) during your fellowship?

In August of 2002, I was tasked with proposing a new K-12 initiative that would encourage the participation of students and educators in learning about the science of NASA. I worked with other key NASA education leaders, and we employed a two-fold strategy in developing the new vision. First, a research analysis of national literature and congressional committee results was done to guide the basic premises of the initiative and determine a possible need that fit the role of NASA. Secondly, an ad hoc committee was formed with education representatives from around the agency and national professional organizations to conceptualize the initiative. A series of teleconferences with the committee gradually yielded a consensus as to the possible thrust of the program. The draft plan ... resulted in the NASA Explorer Schools project, formally launched in the spring of 2003 with the announcement of the first 50 school teams. (After the Einstein Fellowship ended) I was the project manager for the initiative through the three-year pilot phase.


What have you done since your fellowship, and what are you doing now?

I am working as the lead education coordinator for NOAA's (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s) National Ocean Service. We develop materials and programs that promote environmental literacy, especially about the ocean, coasts and climate change. The target audience is grades 3-12 students and educators, and we have created many lesson plans, tutorials, case studies and interactive activities. A major initiative recently has been the development of a "serious" game for middle school students about estuaries. It will be launched in 2009.


How did participating in the Einstein Fellowship Program impact you as an educator?

I was not aware of the breadth of NASA involvement in education and was continually impressed with the dedication of people around the agency who work to bring NASA science to the public. I had many opportunities to collaborate with Fellows who were placed in other agencies, and we formed friendships that are still strong. The Einstein experience gave me new eyes into the problems that teachers face around the country and the struggles of students from challenging situations. It gave me a new sense of urgency about the need for solid STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education experiences for all children so that they can reach their potential as stewards of our planet and explore new horizons.


What legacy or impact did you leave behind at NASA?

I understand that the NASA Explorer Schools project is still in place, and I still hear from teachers who are in the project to let me know that they appreciate the NASA relationship. It has had a tremendous impact on teachers and students. At the end of the day, their stories still warm my heart. Teachers do not reap the rewards of large salaries, but their dedication and willingness to try new strategies to help their students can lead to huge impacts for all of us.


Related Resources
NOAA Ocean Service Education   →
Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship Program   →
NASA Education
NASA Explorer Schools   →
Teachers Educating NASA
From Alaska to Antarctica

Heather R. Smith/NASA Educational Technology Services